Over the years, I tried and tried to get that special feeling. I couldn't seem to find it. Christmas started at Thanksgiving and concluded with a tremendous letdown after the last present was open on Christmas day. Oh, but wait! There's the stocking. Open that and it's over again. Bah-humbug.
In my teen years, my family started to fall away from the church, my parent's marriage, unbeknown to me, started falling apart, they didn't take my youngest brother and sister to Mass anymore and my other sisters hit those defiant years and I was the only one to remain faithful. I had huge fights with my sisters on Christmas eve trying to convince them that they should be going to church only to lose the fight and go alone.
Things didn't change in college, either. I continued to go to Mass at St. Mary's in College Station, but when Christmas break would come, I'd feel ambivalent about going home to spend a secular Christmas with my family. I wanted to see them, but the season seemed pointless. I knew my faith pretty well (I thought). I understood what Christmas is about and I loved it. But where was that much desired special feeling? I sought it out at parties and the mall, with Christmas movies and carols, but, not surprisingly, it eluded me.
It wasn't until I had my own children and sought to give them what I was missing, that I FINALLY figured it out! Advent is not Christmas. I had been spending my whole Advent shopping, decorating, working, studying, doing all the stuff you do to get ready for something, thinking it was Christmas season. All that time I'd kill myself to make a nice Christmas only to be let down when Christmas day was over!
Advent is NOT Christmas! Advent is the new year in the Church and the time to prepare for Christmas. Prepare not just our homes and our shopping list, but, most importantly, our hearts. How did we do it? Well, we started small by celebrating St. Nicholas day, teaching the kids who St. Nicholas really is and that his purpose is to bring us to Jesus. We added traditions like making a soft crib for Jesus with our good deeds (1 piece of straw for each sacrifice), we lit the advent wreath at dinner. We did a lot of little things. Every little act we added to our family tradition made our hearts more open to the coming season of Christmas. It began to feel holy.
How to fix the Christmas day letdown, though? All that work for one day seemed a bit much. It suddenly dawned on me that Christmas is a SEASON, not a day. We began to celebrate the entire season, and what a difference it made! On Christmas day, we replaced the Advent candles with white candles and lit them every night, we talked about the feast days of the Holy Family and all the Saints of the Christmas season. I made special dinners and read about these holy people who are there to bring us to Christ. We put on a play at Epiphany with Kevin playing King Herod and the kids as the 3 Wise Men. Last year, I played Mary and Anne-Marie was Jesus. We held back gifts at Christmas for the kids to bring to baby Jesus at Epiphany and then they got to open them. We kept our decorations up and watched Christmas movies and generally kept the season until after the baptism of the Lord (the first Luminous mystery of the Rosary) and technically we could keep them up until Candlemas, the Presentation of the Lord at the temple.
Oh, how I love Advent and Christmas! How much I love our Lord, Jesus Christ! May His peace be with you and may you find that special connection with Him this wonderful time of year and carry it with you all year long.
Resources I like:
Women for Faith and Family